Having seen three of the films from his canon, I now proclaim Director David O. Russell an authority on gritty and real East Coast America. Every one of the films I've seen (Flirting with Disaster, The Fighter, and now Silver Linings Playbook) is the story of an urban East Coast family dealing with very real and all too familiar demons. And each of them rings true, poignantly and at times hilariously.
In Silver Linings Playbook, the setting is suburban Philadelphia where Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a former school teacher, comes home to live with his parents, Pat Senior (Robert DeNiro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) after a stint in a mental institution. Pat was diagnosed as bipolar after a violent incident involving his wife and her lover. But when Dolores gets Pat released from the hospital, he sets out to win back his wife's affections through clean living and positive thinking. As he goes about implementing his "silver linings playbook" he encounters a young woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) with problems of her own. Together, they make a deal to help each other achieve their goals despite the doubts and wariness of those around them.
Russell does a great job at presenting an authentic American family, with all its warts and virtues. The film touches on a plethora of common family neuroses: sibling rivalry, parental angst, spousal recriminations and resentments. Indeed, Robert DeNiro's (outstanding) supporting performance as a hot-headed but well-intentioned father, hit uncomfortably close to home for me.
This is a touching story. It's full of humor (at the viewing I attended, the audience laughed loudly several times) as well as angst. And it keenly illustrates the arbitrary nature of mental illness diagnoses. Very early on in the story it becomes clear that the two main characters, whom everyone deems to be crazy, are really no different than anyone else. Why is Pat any more crazy than his OCD father or his seething best friend or his worry-ridden mother?
It's a lesson that Pat and Tiffany learn as they take their emotional journey.
The movie's greatest charm is its sincerity. In fact, that is why I'm now a fan of David O. Russell. There's nothing pretentious about his flicks. They're gritty and real. Rather than focusing on set construction or fancy camera work, Russell puts his effort into telling real stories with sympathetic heroes. And he tells them from the heart. Who can't appreciate that?
Silver Linings Playbook is one of those films that makes you feel good because it reassures you. Yes, you're crazy, but it's okay. Because you sure as hell aren't alone.